RALEIGH, NC (CBS North Carolina) -
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper has declared a state of emergency ahead of Hurricane Irma.
The National Hurricane Center is calling Irma "potentially catastrophic." CNN reports one person was killed in St. Martin and another is dead in St. Barts due to Irma.
As of 5 p.m., the storm is still a Category 5 with sustained winds of 185 mph, with even higher winds in gusts. The 5 p.m. public advisory did not change much from what the National Hurricane Center issued at 2 p.m.
"To prepare for Hurricane Irma, I am declaring a state of emergency," Cooper said. It will go into effect at 8 a.m. Thursday.
"The state is doing what we want the people of North Carolina to do and that is prepare for Hurricane Irma," Cooper said.
The Center will released another advisory on Irma at 8 p.m.
"On the forecast track, the extremely dangerous core of Irma will move over portions of the Virgin Islands very soon, pass near or just north of Puerto Rico this afternoon or tonight, pass near or just north of the coast of the Dominican Republic Thursday, and be near the Turks and Caicos and southeastern Bahamas late Thursday," the National Hurricane Center wrote.
Irma is the most powerful storm ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean, National Hurricane Center said.
Four other storms have had winds that strong in the overall Atlantic region, but they have been in the Caribbean Sea or the Gulf of Mexico, where the usually warmer waters fuel tropical cyclones.
Hurricane Allen hit 190 mph in 1980, while 2005's Wilma, 1988's Gilbert and a 1935 great Florida Key storm all had 185 mph winds.
Experts say Irma's strength is a result of unusually warm water for that part of the Atlantic.
"Some fluctuations in intensity are likely during the next day or two, but Irma is forecast to remain a
powerful category 4 or 5 hurricane during the next couple of days," the National Hurricane Center wrote.
The latest track, issued at 11 a.m. Wednesday from the National Hurricane Center, indicates the storm will move past a number of Caribbean islands, passing along Cuba's north coast. The track suggests it will be just off the tip of South Florida at 8 a.m. Sunday and could be along Florida's Atlantic coast by 8 a.m. Monday. That track could point it toward Georgia and the Carolinas.
It is currently moving west-northwest at 16 mph. It is expected to hold that general heading for a couple of days.
Hurricane Warnings are in effect for Anguilla, Saba, St. Eustatius, Sint Maarten, Saint Martin, Saint Barthelemy, British Virgin Islands, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Vieques, Culebra, the Dominican Republic from Cabo Engano to the northern border with Haiti, Haiti from the northern border with the Dominican Republic to Le Mole St. Nicholas, the southeastern Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands.
France sent emergency food and water rations to the French islands of Saint Martin and Saint Barthelemy, where Irma ripped off roofs and knocked out all electricity. While France received no immediate reports of casualties, the minister for French overseas territories, Annick Girardin, said: "We have a lot to fear for a certain number of our compatriots who unfortunately didn't want to listen to the protection measures and go to more secure sites … We're preparing for the worst."
Dutch marines who flew to three Dutch islands hammered by Irma reported extensive damage but no deaths or injuries.
Dutch U.N. Ambassador Karel van Oosterom made the appeal during a General Assembly meeting Wednesday on protecting civilians in conflict. He said the eye of the hurricane passed right over Sint Maarten, one of four countries in the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
He said the hurricane earlier hit two special municipalities of the Netherlands located in the Caribbean Sea, Sint Eustatius and Saba.
Van Oosterom said "first information indicates that a lot of damage has been done but communication is still extremely difficult."
He called for "compassion with the people in the region who are suffering right at this moment, to show solidarity, and to provide assistance where necessary."
A Hurricane Watch is in effect for parts of Cuba and the central Bahamas as well.
Up to 20 inches of rain and storm surge of up to 20 feet are possible in some areas.